“The One” Awards

Once a year the Laurel Main Street organization honors members of our downtown community for their commitment to the Main Street cause and their dedication to our community with “The One” Awards.  The awards were named for a phrase that pops up again and again during brainstorming and event planning sessions: “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of THE ONEs who are doing it!” On September 10, we celebrated the dreamers, the doers, THE ONEs whose desire to leave things better than they found it is evident in all their pursuits.

Downtown Business of the Year

The Loft on Central, a downtown staple for 10 years, is a Laurel Main Street Partner and was named downtown Business of the Year. Their steadfast support of our community includes hosting fundraisers for those in need, animal rescuers, and opening their doors on holidays to feed our first responders. They also lead the way in figuring out how to survive and serve during the Covid-19 crisis of 2020.

Business of the Year – The Loft on Central

 

Volunteers of the Year

THE ONE Award was presented to two longtime LMS Board Members whose years of service will come to an end this year. Heather Brown and Lew Yoder have seen more than their fair share of sunrises in downtown Laurel while setting up for events. Their dependability is rivaled only by that of the U.S. Postal Service — they truly have served LMS in rain, hail, sleet, and snow, and let’s not forget about hurricanes and tornadoes!

 

Lew has served as Secretary of the Board, Chair of the Organization Committee, and is the immediate multiple-term Past-President. Lew Co-chaired the Loblolly Festival and chaired the search committee for the new LMS executive director.

Volunteer of the Year – Lew Yoder

Heather also served as Secretary of the Board, Promotions Chair, and Co-chair of the award-winning Magnolia State Bank Chili Cook Off.

Volunteer of the Year – Heather Brown

We appreciate the service of our volunteers, members, and partners, and their dedication to our community.

“The One” Awards

Once a year the Laurel Main Street organization honors members of our downtown community for their commitment to the Main Street cause and their dedication to our community with “The One” Awards.  The awards were named for a phrase that pops up again and again during brainstorming or event planning sessions:

“Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of THE ONEs who are doing it!” 

We celebrate the dreamers, the doers, and THE ONES whose desire to improve their community is evident in all their pursuits.Attendees enjoying dinner at Laurel Main Street's annual awards banquet.

LMS President, Lew Yoder, welcomes attendees to the annual awards banquet.

Our attendees enjoyed great food and fellowship at Studio5Fifty with those who share their affinity for downtown Laurel.  Awards were created by local calligrapher and artist Jade Yoder of Paper Studio and were presented by Laurel Main Street President, Lew Yoder.

Downtown Business of the Year

Wayne & Melissa Bryant, owners of The Loblolly Boutique & Crescent Line Toys were named Downtown Business of the Year.  They are THE ONES who have worked tirelessly to create an engaging and inviting atmosphere inside their store, and even on the sidewalk in front!  Their work in the downtown community is widespread and we appreciate their dedication to downtown Laurel and Laurel Main Street!  Whether they are rallying downtown merchants, creating the most magical scene in Trustmark Art Park for The Magic of Downtown at Christmas, the Bryants have shown that their love for downtown knows no bounds.

award recipients accepting their award

The children of Wayne & Melissa Bryant accepting the award for Downtown Business of the Year on their behalf.

THE ONE Award

THE ONE Award is presented each year to Laurel Main Street’s top volunteer.  This year, Carl & Mandy Buchanan received THE ONE Award.  The Buchanans are fixtures of the downtown scene and are always ready to lend a hand.  At Main Street events, you’ll often find Mandy helping out in the t-shirt trailer, but their real dedication shines in their artwork.  For years, attendees to the Magnolia State Bank Chili Cook Off have had the opportunity to purchase one of Carl’s “bottomless” chili bowls.  These one-of-a-kind bowls have somewhat of a cult following, with people from around the world asking if they can purchase one and have it shipped to them.  Carl and Mandy also create the awards for the Chili Cook Off and Crawfest — unique platters, which serve as a reminder of a wonderful day in downtown Laurel.  The Buchanans serve with a cheerful heart and are always on board to lend a hand or throw an extra bowl in the kiln.  Thank you for your service to Laurel Main Street!

award recipients accepting their award

Carl & Mandy Buchanan receive “The One” award for Laurel Main Street volunteers of the year.

 

 

 

All photos property of Robby Scruggs and Scruggs Photography.

Legacy & Leadership: SouthGroup Insurance

SouthGroup Insurance Services is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. According to a Bloomberg report, 80% of businesses fail in the first 18 months. We admire their longevity and are pleased to share their story.  The following is an interview with Laurel Branch President, Brad Kent.

What is SouthGroup Insurance Services?

SouthGroup Insurance Services is a full-service independent insurance agency.  At our core, SouthGroup provides Property & Casualty and Life & Health insurance to businesses and individuals from a vast array of insurance carriers.  However, from the perspective of a business philosophy, we are actively engaged in helping businesses and families assess and manage the risks they face in everyday life.  Our mission is to manage risk and build personal relationships and partnerships in an environment of trust, integrity, teamwork and stability.

How did SouthGroup Insurance Services begin?

The story of SouthGroup, while unique, is a familiar story of business evolution like many family owned American businesses.  We take great pride in the fact that we have been a locally owned and operated company for 4+ generations. 

Our agency has a very long history in Laurel, as we are currently celebrating our 100th birthday.  In fact, we have continually served the people of Laurel and Jones County for 100 years.  Our earliest roots date back to 1918 with the formation of the Graves, Lindsey & McLaurin agency which was located in the Pinehurst Hotel. In 1929 the business moved into our current location on Central Avenue in downtown Laurel. 

CT Ferrell

SouthGroup Insurance – C.T. Ferrill Building – Central Avenue

My great grandfather, John H. Jones, grew up in Clinton, Iowa, as did several of Laurel’s oldest families.  After a successful career as a publisher in Chicago, he ultimately moved to Laurel and opened the John H. Jones Insurance Agency whose first offices were also in the Pinehurst Hotel.  Both Graves, Lindsey & McLaurin and John H. Jones continued successful independent operations in downtown Laurel until 1983 when a merger created Graves, Lindsey, McLaurin & Jones (GLMJ).  At that time, the companies were operated by Russell Lindsey and my grandfather, Irwin “Skinny” Bradford.

My grandfather died not long after the merger.  That’s when my father, Charles Kent, took over as the 3rd generation to lead the agency.  GLMJ continued success and consistent growth over the next 30 years.  However, times change and industries evolve.  Like many industries, market conditions over the last 20 years have changed and driven consolidation within the independent insurance industry. 

SouthGroup Insurance Services was first conceived in 2000 by a select group of insurance agency professionals from 12 of Mississippi’s leading insurance agencies.  These agencies, widely recognized as industry leaders by their peers, convened to consider the challenges facing successful agencies and the solutions to these challenges that would enable them to offer an incomparable level of service to their clients.  Those solutions were the genesis of SouthGroup.

On January 1, 2002, with the official merger completed, those 12 original agencies began operating under the SouthGroup banner with corporate offices in Ridgeland. 

Today SouthGroup is the largest independent insurance agency in Mississippi with offices in 22 locations.  SouthGroup is also 1 of 2 agencies on Insurance Journal’s list of Top 100 Privately-held Agencies in the United States.

However, the unique quality that SouthGroup possesses compared with other large agencies is our “Main Street approach”.  Rather than consolidating all of our offices, SouthGroup has continued operating in each location.  This validates our strong belief in the importance of building close, personal relationships with our clients, and serving our local community. 

How do you think SouthGroup will be different 5 years from now? 

SouthGroup’s plans are to continue to grow.  Like most businesses, technology is changing the way that we operate. Whether it’s internal technologies to make our business work more efficiently, utilizing social media platforms to engage the community or transacting business online, technology is changing our business all the time. Today SouthGroup operates “in the cloud” and strives to be as paperless as possible.  I predict that we will continue to embrace technology, and therefore it will promote change that presents challenges, but also leads to increased profitability.

Who do you want people to know about your services? 

First and foremost, we offer a valuable service to anyone that purchases insurance.  As an independent agency, we do not work for a single insurance company.  We offer choice, and choice is a vital necessity to promote competition, which leads to value. 

More specifically, SouthGroup remains the dominant business insurer in Laurel and Jones County.  Whether you are a sole proprietor, or you operate a large enterprise, SouthGroup has the products and services to compete for your business.  This includes general liability, commercial property, worker’s compensation, commercial auto and more.  Our clients range from small “mom and pop” businesses to several of the largest employers in Jones County.

What is your best advice for those looking to participate in the growth, revitalization and restoration of Downtown Laurel?  Our goal as Laurel Main Street is to support our existing businesses and recruit new ones. Why should people want to be a part of Downtown? What have you learned that can help that person on the verge of making the decision to start his or her own legacy as a downtown business?

I am a staunch believer in strengthening from your inner core.  Whenever I travel, I am always looking for a downtown area, and I judge the vibrancy of a community on the look and feel I get from the downtown area. Because of this, what is good for downtown Laurel, is good for all of Jones County.  As downtown Laurel continues to flourish, this will lead to increased tourism and economic development, which in turn will provide a higher quality of life for our local families and businesses.  My recommendation to everyone is that they get involved.  This may be as simple as volunteering, or as complex as purchasing downtown property and starting a new business.  While it seems that downtown Laurel is reaching critical mass, I believe that this could be just the beginning of something much more substantial for our community. This requires involvement at every level – families, entrepreneurs, the business community and local government must be in lockstep if we want to take downtown Laurel to the next level.

MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Main Street Hero

The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Main Street Hero recognizes one outstanding community leader or public figure who has displayed an involved commitment to downtown and his or her Main Street program.  On June 21, 2018, Mallorie Rasberry received this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Mallorie Main Street Hero

Main Street Hero

There are people who are dedicated volunteers and passionate advocates for their towns. They are at almost every event and are valued. You give them awards to show your appreciation and thank them constantly for their service.

Then, there are people who have been there since the beginning, are at every event, and you never get the opportunity to thank them because, if you did, you’d never be able to stop. There are people without whom the success of the organization is immediately called into question. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Mallorie Rasberry.

Mallorie is a wife and mother, an accountant, a business owner, and perhaps the single greatest advocate for Downtown Laurel, Mississippi on the face of the planet. She started out on the Promotions Committee and has served in nearly every officer position on the Laurel Main Street board in her 8 years with the organization. She has acted as de facto treasurer for most of her tenure on the LMS board and has seen a fair number of sunrises while volunteering. Mallorie and her husband, Jim, generously offered the space for the Laurel Welcome Center and storage for the plethora of signs and shirts LMS always has on hand. She welcomes visitors to Laurel daily and now shares the Laurel Main Street story nationally on HGTV’s Hometown.

The list of reasons why Mallorie is a hero to Laurel Main Street can fill pages, but it all emanates from her sincere belief that Downtown Laurel is a place worth saving. That belief is what keeps her feet moving toward the goal of a fully vibrant and restored Laurel. She feels so strongly about this that she is part of the group that spoke at the closing session of the National Main Street Conference about what a Downtown Comeback was all about.Mallorie Downtown Comeback Mallorie could have left Laurel Main Street; after all, she had plenty of other things vying for her time. But, she chose to stay in the trenches and fight every day. She chose to do whatever she could whenever she could to bring her hometown back. Not many people would stick around for almost 10 years, running most of that time on hope and coffee, but Mallorie did.

Whenever someone in Laurel Main Street needs encouragement or to be reminded that the work is worth the effort, we casually point at Mallorie and say, “She was here when Laurel had been abandoned; she was here fighting when no one believed in this place, and she did it while raising a daughter and working full time. If she can do it, you can too.” What else can we call her besides hero?

On Thursday, June 21, 2018 the Mississippi Main Street Association hosted their 29th Annual Downtown Revitalization Awards Luncheon at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson, MS.  Each year Mississippi Main Street recognizes excellence in downtown revitalization and honors local Main Street champions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show the success of Laurel Main Street, to exchange ideas with other Main Street organizations, and is especially encouraging to see other thriving and successful communities.

MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Merchant of the Year

The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Merchant of the Year recognizes one outstanding local business owner who has a flourishing and innovative business and displays an involved commitment to downtown and his or her Main Street program.  On June 21, 2018, Lott Furniture Co. received this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Merchant of the Year

Lott Furniture Co. is Laurel’s oldest business; they have over a century of history in our small town. Rodney Rowell and his wife Angie believe that their business is more than just a means to an end. They believe that it is a resource for them to put down roots in their community.

Lott Furniture

The business is most certainly a family affair. Rodney’s mother, Nelly, worked there for over 50 years, with Rodney and his sister Candy following in her footsteps. In fact, Angie and Rodney met each
other while working at Lott Furniture. Now, their daughter, Keri, is stepping in to continue the tradition. The Lott crew loves history, and they fuse it with present and future in every aspect of their business. They, of course, take payments via credit cards, but they still do their books by hand, still know their customers by name, still care about the person behind the purchase. 

The Lott Furniture business model is revolutionary, but it’s actually not new. The team took Mr. Lott’s original business model—selling furniture on credit—and adapted it to the young couples that move to Laurel. The couples were amazed that they could get amazing furniture and afford it by paying monthly. Lott Furniture is re-educating the youngest generations about building relationships through credit. They also started a series of workshops called Wine and Design that give décor tips and advice on how to turn a house into a home.

However, the most incredible thing about the folks at Lott is their commitment to Downtown Laurel. Their Instagram feed is dedicated to Laurel itself; you’ll only see ads for their products in their stories. Rodney Rowell has been called the cheerleader for Laurel, and a quick look at how much he supports his fellow local businesses attests to that name. He buys everything he can from fellow merchants downtown and is a tireless supporter of Laurel Main Street. Rodney even met with local creative Bethany Byrd of Own Your Hill to create a map of Downtown Laurel and the other merchants there. Lott Furniture paid for the first batch, and it is now a staple in Downtown; every visitor picks one up when they start to explore.

When it comes to Downtown Laurel, the Rowell’s have seen it all: a thriving center of business, a downtown disrupted by urban renewal, the sheds coming down and the streets alive again. Rodney is the go-to guy for all young and older entrepreneurs. He is the epitome of believing, in good times and bad.

Rowell Family

On Thursday, June 21, 2018 the Mississippi Main Street Association hosted their 29th Annual Downtown Revitalization Awards Luncheon at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson, MS.  Each year Mississippi Main Street recognizes excellence in downtown revitalization and honors local Main Street champions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show the success of Laurel Main Street, to exchange ideas with other Main Street organizations, and is especially encouraging to see other thriving and successful communities.